TOMATOES IN CONTAINERS
In a recent gardeners’ survey, the tomato took first place in the
homegrown vegetable popularity contest. And … no surprise … it wasn’t
even close—cucumbers and peppers, in second and third place, were 40
points behind! The fresh-picked tomato experience is not just for those
that own a sunny plot of rich soil. You can successfully grow tomatoes
in containers on a patio, deck, or even a fire escape, as long as it
captures at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
a Large Pot
Even small tomato varieties have substantial root mass. The minimum pot
size for a patio tomato should be 14 inches in diameter, with a capacity
of at least 5 gallons. For best results go with a 17- to 20-inch pot
that holds 15 to 20 gallons. And try to avoid black; it may cause the
soil to overheat. The larger the pot size, the easier it will be to keep
your plants from drying out, which will help prevent blossom end rot. A
large pot will also help prevent your becoming a slave to the water
needs of your potted tomatoes.
Use a Suitable Soil Mix
Be sure to purchase a potting mix that is specifically designed for
tomatoes. Or you can make your own mix: Ohio University recommends 25%
each potting soil, perlite, peat moss, and compost. Several healthy
handfuls of worm castings ( black gold" is a great addition as well."
What About Those Upside-down Containers?
Reality check: You will have to work a lot harder
to be successful.
upside-down containers have a capacity well under 5 gallons—too
small to be practical. Like all hanging planters they dry out
rapidly in sunny weather, so your plants will require even more
constant watering than they would in standard pots.
Also, the soil in a hanging
container heats up quickly, causing stress. Gardeners using
light-colored 5-gallon plastic buckets report having some luck.
For the best chance of success with
this method, choose only small-fruited varieties and start out with
big tall vigorous seedlings so they can be planted very deeply (that
is, with roots very close to the top). It's critical to hang
the containers on a strong support—they will get heavy!
an Appropriate Variety
There are many choices of tomato varieties especially for container
growing, with new patio tomatoes being introduced each year. Look for
varieties labeled "determinate", or those described as “bush”, dwarf or
short-season tomatoes. Some container varieties, sometimes referred to
as tumbler-type tomatoes, have a cascading rather than bush habit, which
eliminates the need for staking. These are suitable for window boxes.
It is possible to grow
tall vining "indeterminate" garden favorites in containers, but keep in
mind that large vines require roomy quarters—at least a 15- to 20-gallon
pot—to sustain the roots and to accommodate stakes or cages. In general,
varieties with small- to medium-sized fruits are better container
choices than large beefsteaks… and choosing a hybrid variety with good
resistance to diseases is helpful.
Don’t wait to stake potted tomatoes. Position 2-3 foot stakes or cages
as even bush varieties will need them to help support their branches and
heavy fruit sets. Add your stakes or cages when you plant your
Start your tomatoes off with a slow-release fertilizer (you'll find
Certified Organic as well as conventional fertilizers are available at
good garden centers and nurseries) mixed in with the top several inches
of the soil. It should have a balanced ratio of N-P-K (5-5-5, for
example). When your plants begin flowering, this is your cue to begin
supplemental feeding every few weeks. Look for a balanced soluble
fertilizer that will provide both the macro- and micronutrient needs of
your tomatoes; a combination of fish emulsion and liquid seaweed is a
good nonchemical and inexpensive standby. Be sure to properly to mix and
apply fertilizer according to according to label directions.
Try never to let your tomato plants wilt. Water your seedlings in well,
and keep the soil moist but not sopping wet. Early in the season, this
might mean watering once or twice a week, but once your plants size up
and the weather heats up, you’ll probably be watering every day. If you
plan to go away it might make sense to purchase an inexpensive container
drip system and a timer.
Dwarf or "bush" tomatoes are determinate varieties that grow just 2 to 3
feet tall at maturity and are well suited for container growing.
Sprawling “tumbler-type” tomatoes need no support.
Garden Seed Association (HGSA) |
P.O. Box 93, Maxwell, CA 95955 |
Phone (530) 438-2126 |